Star Politics: Let’s talk about parents

·6 min read

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has launched lawsuits against 45 school districts over the past two weeks, hitting another nine on Monday.

But there’s still one group of publicly funded schools with mask mandates that is missing from Schmitt’s list — charter schools.

Charters are essentially privately managed schools that receive public funding. In exchange for the money, they can’t charge tuition and have to meet certain standards set by the government.

Across the country, charters have become a core element of the “school choice” movement. The political argument has focused on giving parents the ability to choose which school — public or public charter — they feel is right for their child.

I bring all of this up because of the statement Schmitt’s office gave when explaining why they hadn’t sued charter schools.

“We’re currently evaluating our legal options on mask mandates in charter schools, but the Attorney General has been eminently clear that parents, not school districts or bureaucrats, should be able to decide what’s best for their children,” Schmitt’s spokesman Chris Nuelle said (emphasis mine).

His spokesman is placing parents in the center of the conversation, in line with a national political strategy by conservatives.

Over the course of 2021, school board meetings became a political flash point. Between school closures, COVID-19 health protocols and concerns about how teachers were discussing diversity, equity and inclusion, tempers flared to the point where board members were getting death threats.

In Virginia, the Republican candidate for Governor, Glenn Youngkin, made education a centerpiece of his campaign. Aided by an opponent who said he didn’t think parents should tell schools what to teach, Youngkin’s strategy worked. Exit polls and post-election focus groups have shown that education was a major issue in the race and helped lift Youngkin to the win.

That’s caused some Republicans to think differently about how much to lean into education, long regarded as an issue where Democrats held the advantage.

Now, many Republicans feel like they’re on offense. Shortly after the election, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley filed a bill to establish a Parents Bill of Rights (it’s unlikely to pass this year, as Democrats control the Senate and House of Representatives). Similar bills have popped up in Florida, the U.S. House and in state legislatures like Missouri, where Schmitt has cheered the effort on.

Schmitt is in a crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate, so it’s politically advantageous for him to be seen as a leader on issues that are important to the Republican base. Right now, the parents rights movement — a catch-all term that encompasses the conflict between parents and school boards over both their covid policies and what’s taught in schools — is at the top of many Republican voters’ minds.

By the way, Schmitt’s consultant in his U.S. Senate race? Axiom Strategies. That’s the company founded by Jeff Roe, who also advised Youngkin’s campaign.

More from Missouri:

Officials thought there would be 190,000 new Medicaid recipients by this year after the state approved expanded eligibility in 2020. Instead, people hoping to get insurance have been met with lengthy delays. This month nearly 70,000 Missourians are waiting to hear if they qualify.

Here are headlines from across the state:

And across Kansas:

The Kansas legislature approved their new congressional district maps this week, sending them to Gov. Laura Kelly for her signature or veto. The maps split up Wyandotte County to the point where the side of the road someone lives on can determine who represents them in Congress.

The latest from Kansas City:

In Kansas City....

Have a news tip? Send it along to ddesrochers@mcclatchydc.com.

Odds and ends

Hawley research

Earlier this week Stephen Webber, a former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, came in possession of a memo by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s staff. It was full of tid-bits about the donors and politicians Hawley was slated to meet during his trip to Missouri this week, including a donor’s salary, pronunciation guides for the politicians’ last names, some key issues among Republicans in the legislature and whether Republican lawmakers said positive or negative things about him on Twitter after what they called the “hysteria” surrounding the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Hawley poll

In response to the memo on Twitter, Hawley’s political adviser Kyle Plotkin released some in-house polling data showing he remains popular among Republicans. Most notable, though, is polling that showed 54 percent of Missouri Republican primary voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate with Hawley’s endorsement. That indicates Hawley may attempt to tip the scales in a competitive race to replace Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt.

A scary moment

Someone shot at a car that belongs to Missouri Rep. Cori Bush this week in St. Louis. Bush was not in the car at the time of the shooting and officials don’t think she was being targeted. Still, she said it was a scary moment. “Any act of gun violence shakes your soul,” she said on Twitter. “That’s why our movement is working to invest in our communities, eradicate the root causes of gun violence, and keep everyone safe.”

A correction

Last week, I screwed up my link to this article. The vice provost resigned because he plagiarized a message written by Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity in the Veterans Benefits Administration, in 2015.

Happy Friday

Here’s an obituary of one of the last survivors of Alcatraz. This weekend, Jeanne Kuang is trying to pretend it’s warm with a jalapeno mezcal paloma. Here’s a John Prine song for the road.

Enjoy your weekend.

Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent
Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent

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